Why Wage Seekers Associations?
Rural areas are still dominated by feudal structures where individual laborers from socially marginalised communities can not fight for their rights. In spite of NREG Act and Scheme, the implementing structure and mechanism is still dominated by dominant castes, corrupt officials who want to protect their interests. There is evident nexus between feudal lords-politicians-contractors.
Much of the MGNREGA’s success has been premised on community mobilisation of rural workers, since the uniquely conceptualised demand process of the NREGA distinguishes it from other wage employment programmes. This also constitutes its biggest challenge, especially if the majority of wage seekers come from SC/ ST, and from land reform beneficiaries; they often lack regular access to livelihood sources and are also illiterate and unorganised. Further, a majority of NREGA workers are women who often juggle between wage employment and self-employment for survival and dignity in rural India.
Even though NREG Scheme is backed by NREG Act and workers have right to claim minimum 100 days work, minimum wages and other benefits, the socio-political context in which it is being implemented is feudalistic and exploitative in nature. The nature and intensity may vary from region to region. Panchayat is to play a key role in NREGS implementation which is highly political even though it is not supposed to be on political partylines. Even candidates for SC and ST reserved ward member, Sarpanches and Upa-sarpanches seats are decided by the dominant castes.
On the economic front, SCs’ and STs’ dependency on dominant case landlords for work, loans, foodgrains in distress situation and lot of many other things could go through both short and long term changes if NREGS is implemented properly. So far, the major employer in any village context is dominant caste landlord in which the ‘employer-employee’ is not mere work-wage relation but implicates oppressive bindings on SCs/STs.
In such a complex dependency relationships, NREGS if properly implemented could change the relations between dominant caste landlord and SC/ST laborer. ‘Mate’, ‘Field Assistant’, ‘Technical Assistant’ and other functionaries could replace (at least reduce role) dominant caste landlord in providing work to SCs and STs. Once the economic relation (dependency) is reduced or replaced the oppressive bindings on the SCs and STs could also be reduced or replaced in due course of time, provided NREGS functionaries function as per their mandate.
Social Audit process has established the corruption in NREGS implementation. Socially marginalised communities are not in a position to demand their rights in this situation. Even though NREG Act spells out clearly what are the rights of wage seekers, individual wage seekers from socially marginalised communities are not in a position to access their rights and entitlements in the given context. The feudal landlords and politicians nexus was able to influence the state government to stop work during agriculture season in 2007. During 2006-2008, only 31 days work was generated in 2006-07 and 35 days of work was generated during 2007-08.
Mobilization of labour has historically been marked by a crude sociological determinism and urban bias in India. In this dominant-caste political economy perspective on labour, a ubiquitous class struggle between the working class and capitalists decides the content, structure and outcome of the mobilisation of labour. Not surprisingly, this model of labour mobilisation excludes lower castes and tribals, portraying them as rigid, intolerant, authoritarian and more likely to succumb to the seductive charms of identity politics.
Hence, there is need for organising wage seekers to strengthen their voice and enable them to access their rights and entitlements under NREG Act.
Some provisions necessitate group/association formation
The NREG Act (Schedule II, Sec. 5, point 13) specifically mention that at least “50 wage seekers need become available for commencing a new work” under NREGS. Besides, for some works related to common property resources development and individual land development given under land reforms, group formation is necessary to successfully overcome the threats from the feudal landlords. In Andhra Pradesh, the NREGS officials decided to make a provision that NREGS officials should consult Wage Seekers in finalizing the shelf-of works. In Orissa, Orissa Rural Employment Scheme Village Labor Leader/s (VLL) who/which could be SHG or Labor Associations are entrusted with various responsibilities of planning-implementing-monitoring NREGS works (No. 1765/PR Dated, Bhubaneswar, the 25/2/06 RE/05).
In Andhra Pradesh , G.O.Ms. No. 339 dated 7.11.2009 (A. ii, iii) mentions that “organised into Fixed Labor Groups by adding all the potential laborers from among the SHG households, following norms of NREGS….” … “once the group is formed, MPDOs/APOs at the mandal level shall register them on the computer as fixed labor groups”
- To demand and claim a minimum of 100 days work.
- To claim entitlements of wage seekers under NREGS.
- To monitor the implementation of NREGS to check corruption, diversion of funds under NREGS.
- To effectively participate in social audit process and be part of Social Audit Forums.
What can WSA do ?
The following tasks are being taken up by Wage Seekers Associations in Andhra Pradesh:
Facilitation of WSs without job-cards and facilitating application process
2. Facilitating job-cards issue
3. Facilitating wage seekers list preparation
4. Facilitating wage seekers list updating
5. Facilitating shelf of works identification
6. Facilitating interaction with NREGS officials
7. Facilitating allotment of work
8. Ensuring facilities at worksites
10. Facilitating work measurements and muster roll verification
11. Facilitating pay-slips issue
12. Facilitating payments
13. Explaining about WSAs and WSFs
14. Facilitating peer leaders identification form WSs
15. Facilitating members enrolment in WSAs
16. Facilitation of WSA formation at village level
17. Facilitation of Awareness camps to WSAs
18. Facilitation of WSAs federation at mandal and district level
19. Facilitation of WSAs meeting at village and mandal level
20 Participation in mandal level review meetings on NREGS
21. Facilitating WSAs participation in social audit